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Union displays Christian hospitality, lets city newspaper use office space

JACKSON, Tenn. (BP)–The downtown offices of The Jackson Sun were left without power as a tornado swept through the town May 4, so nearby Union University called to offer the use of its administration facilities to ensure that the city’s citizens would have at least one visible constant in days of chaos.

“I was one of the few people here in the newsroom when the tornado hit,” said Troy Schneider, a reporter and page designer for the Sun. “We immediately lost all power. … Some people from Union called to see if everything was OK. We told them our power was out, and they said we could use their administration building where they put out news releases.”

The Sun staff grabbed several computers and some Rolodexes and headed over to Union, Schneider said. They set up shop in the president’s conference room as well as a conference room belonging to the university relations office, both in the school’s administration building.

“They could not have been a more gracious host,” Schneider said of Union.

The school provided food — including about 100 pizzas — for the staff and summoned their technology specialists to help get the Sun computers hooked up to the Internet and the network.

“David Dockery, their president, stopped by several times to see if we needed anything,” Schneider said. “Some [Sun staff members] were sleeping on [Union] couches, using their desks and offices.”

Dockery told Baptist Press the school has a good relationship with the paper’s publisher and executive editor and was glad to help out.

“It’s one way we’re trying to be of service to this community during this challenging time,” Dockery said.

Because of Union’s hospitality, the Sun production team was able to get the paper together and take it on a disk to The Chester County Independent newspaper in a neighboring town, where the Monday, May 5 edition was printed by about 10 a.m.

“We were happy that we had the opportunity to make sure that the citizens of Jackson were able to receive their newspapers,” said Chris Allen, news director for Union. “At times like these it’s a comfort to people to find the newspapers on their doorsteps each morning as usual.”

After working at Union throughout the day May 5, newspaper staff members met at Union Tuesday morning, May 6 to discuss a game plan and decided to move back to their offices, where power was restored by newly purchased generators. The May 5 and 6 editions of the paper were published at The Tennessean in Nashville.

“The tornadoes that shattered Jackson on Sunday night will change our city forever,” the Sun’s president and publisher, Ed Graves, said in a message posted on the newspaper’s website May 7. “The news from this event is important to everyone and we want you to know that we are making every effort to bring you your Jackson Sun every morning. We would like to express our sincere gratitude to Union University, The Chester County Independent and The Tennessean in Nashville for helping us with the production of our newspaper.”

In another effort to help the recovering community, Dockery will lead a citywide prayer service May 7 at First Baptist Church in Jackson.

“It is an opportunity for us to come together as a city across denominational, social and racial lines to seek God’s help, strength and comfort in these challenging days,” Dockery said in a statement.

In other tornado news, residents in McCrory, Ark., rallied to clean up what remained of Faith Baptist Church after portions of the building were wiped out by the tornado, according to KAIT-TV in Jonesboro, Ark. The small church has about 60 members.

“The building really isn’t anything, it’s just the people,” said church member Hannah Horner.

The church’s sanctuary was the only part of the structure not damaged by the twister, KAIT-TV reported. The chandeliers remained on the ceiling and the Bibles were still in the pews. Steve Shephard, the church’s pastor, told the news station God played a role in the outcome.

“[God] said, ‘I’m going to protect my symbol,’ and His symbol is the cross,” Shephard said. “Disasters pull people together.”

In Illinois, a Southern Baptist disaster relief team was scheduled to leave for Camdenton, Mo., to help with clean-up there, but the team canceled the trip because of tornadoes that moved through their home area. As of early May 7, assessment crews were working to determine the amount of help needed in hard-hit towns like Grand Chain, Joppa and Golconda. First Baptist Church in Golconda was serving as a relief center, and Red Cross teams were meeting there to assess local damage.

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  • Erin Curry